GODISNOWHERE (Genesis 28:10-19a)
By Jim Keat
You've probably seen it before: GODISNOWHERE.
Depending on how you look at this combination of letters, one of two phrases will stand out. In times of distress and despair, bombarded by breaking news and confronted with the chaos of life, our first glance can easily read GOD-IS-NOWHERE. And in moments of safety and solidarity, when we find ourselves connected to something bigger than our own being, we might be able to see GOD-IS-NOW-HERE.
If we're honest, we likely see both phrases at different times. When another name becomes a hashtag and we see systemic oppression sweeping the nation, it can feel like GOD-IS-NOWHERE. And when we raise our fists and take to the streets together, we are reminded that GOD-IS-NOW-HERE.
When we hear the earth groaning in environmental distress as an administration reverts to policies that expedite the sixth extinction, it can feel like GOD-IS-NOWHERE. But when we see state and city leaders, as well as a 19 out of 20 national leaders, commit to make Mother Earth great again, we are reminded that GOD-IS-NOW-HERE.
"I thought God was tired of me. I was scared to pray."
These are Yolanda's words describing a GOD-IS-NOWHERE moment. Yolanda had spent years trying to find love on the streets, working as a prostitute and finding herself suicidal at times. But her life was changed by Magdalene and Thistle Farms.
In 1997, Rev. Becca Stevens opened Magdalene, a sanctuary for women who had experienced trafficking, violence, and addiction. And in 2001 they started Thistle Farms, a bath and bodyworks company that is run by the women of Magdalene. For women who felt like they had no place to go, Magdalene and Thistle Farms was something they never expected to find. And it is here that Yolanda was able to receive love and emotional, spiritual, and physical healing.
Because of Magdalene and Thistle Farms, Yolanda can say GOD-IS-NOW-HERE.
"I'm going to die this way. I just can't do it."
These are Roberta's words describing a GOD-IS-NOWHERE moment. On July 8 at a beach in Panama City, FL, Roberta, her 8 and 11 year old sons, three family members, and four other swimmers were swept away by the powerful and deceptive currents, leaving them stranded in the water and fighting for their lives for nearly 20 minutes.
With water up their noses and their bodies exhausted, the tide had knocked every bit of energy they had. They didn't know what to do and were ready to give up until beachgoers formed a stairway to heaven that changed everything. What began with just five volunteers quickly grew to over an 80 person human chain, helping to bring Roberta and her family safely to shore.
Because of the courage and love of a group of strangers, Roberta can say GOD-IS-NOW-HERE.
"Surely, the Lord is in this place - and I did not know it!"
These are Jacob's words, waking up to what he thought would have been a GOD-IS-NOWHERE morning only to realize that GOD-IS-NOW-HERE.
After colluding with his mother to deceive his father and steal his brother's blessing, Jacob is on the run. He stops to rest for the night and with his head resting upon a rock he dreams of a stairway to heaven. Jacob wakes up, realizing that even in this place of chaos and uncertainty, away from home and exiled to the wilderness, God is in this place.
Because God is in every place. As Wendell Berry reminds us, "There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places." The earth is the Lord's and everything in it. Jacob's story reminds us that it is not God who changes, suddenly appearing when previously absent, but it is Jacob who wakes up to a new awareness of where God is.
We are invited to wake up, to open our eyes and see Magdalene and human chains all around us, finding God in the most unlikely places, even, as Jacob discovered, under a rock.
1. When you read GODISNOWHERE, which phrase do you see first? Why do you think you see that one first?
2. Describe a time when you experienced a GOD-IS-NOWHERE or a GOD-IS-NOW-HERE moment. What led you to that perspective? What happened next?
3. Nearly 50% of people who identify as "spiritual but not religious" say that they believe in God while 63% say that they feel a regular sense of wonder about the universe. What do you think different people mean by "God" and "wonder" when they answer these questions? In your opinion, what is the connection between believing in God and having a sense of wonder about the universe? What does this have to do with GODISNOWHERE?
For Further Reading:
- Lawrence Kushner, God Was in This Place & I, i Did Not Know
- Wendell Berry, Given
- Rob Bell, What We Talk About When We Talk About God
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